Golden Cultivators
or, The World Well Dug

Essay by
Robert Wilfred Franson


August 2001

Two fine dogs

Golden Cultivators are a wonderful kind of dog. We have two.

The senior canine on the premises is Sandy, the Pet-Me dog — we'll call her Pet-Me-Now. She's very friendly, although laboring under the misapprehension that no one has petted her in years, and the time to make up for that is right now. Likely no one has fed her this month, either.

Then there's her muscular son Hunter, the Digger dog — we'll call him Digger. (These nicknames are assigned to protect the guilty.) Like his mother, he's a very affectionate family dog. Digger also digs professionally in the Underdog Uprooting Federation (UUF) under the nom-de-terre, The Excavator.

Their arrival, with teeth

When the previous canine inhabitants had moved on to the Happy Hunting Ground, my son Dave and I looked for replacements. We luckily acquired a young adult female Golden Retriever and one of her pups still with her, a golden young happy fella. We pup-proofed the fence so there would be no small holes near the base, and kept him mostly in the house for the first month.

Nervous in her new home, Pet-Me-Now bit through a new chew-toy of indestructible Nylabone. The Nylabone, upon testing, proved too tough for a pocket knife, so its advertising claim had some veracity. The manufacturer, however, should have tested it on a dog.

While teething, Digger pup ate the dogs' bed consisting of a wicker basket and the heavy cloth pad within. He gnawed on a plastic doghouse, but that had less taste. After the bed was gone, he chewed pieces of firewood to splinters until his teeth were in and his jaw well muscled. Then he followed the precedent of a departed dog (Dusty the Springer Spaniel), and chewed a small red-leaf bougainvillea bush clean off, right above its low protective fence. The bougainvillea, pronounced dead at the scene, did eventually start growing again but with less enthusiasm.

Creating the breed

The breed of Golden Cultivators was begun about 1850 in England. The breeders wanted dogs that would be useful hunting partners, and well-dispositioned family companions. Ancestors that are officially acknowledged include retrievers, bloodhounds, and Russian circus dogs.

The ancestral retrievers contributed a maniacal desire to retrieve things, anything: preferably pheasants or ducks, but lacking those locally, firewood (Digger's preference) or rocks (Pet-Me-Now's preference). Digger's mouth is bigger, his jaw stronger, and clearly he is proud of carting around a hefty chunk of eucalyptus firewood. Pet-Me-Now often holds a rock in her mouth like a pocket-piece for ten minutes or longer while being petted or waiting for more pets. The rocks interfere with her diction. Digger can pick up heavy rocks as big as a flattened softball or cantaloupe.

Note that these are not the same rock or firewood each time. When they wish to retrieve something to demonstrate their retrievership, and none are to hand, the rock pile and woodpiles are shopped for new items. But when the need is urgent, there usually are several pieces of firewood, and several dozen rocks, scattered conveniently on the brick pathways or the lawn.

Bloodhounds' genetic contribution was a desire to sniff anything sniffable, and Golden Cultivators do seem professionally interested in olfactory tidbits brought home on one's clothes. The Russian circus dogs — well, some experts claim that they contributed intelligence, or even the willingness to follow commands. Those Tsarist-era circuses must have been a riot.

Unofficial ancestors came into the mix via passing Gypsies' pets, including the famous Distract-'Em who wagged in a friendly and engaging manner during Gypsy concerts, while the musicians' assistants explored visitors' pockets for untendered admission fees. There also were various wildwood encounters of the bar sinister type. The latter apparently included beaver-dogs (of the Ancestral-Oak-Felling species) and badger-dogs (of the Dig-to-China variety).

RWF; Sandy unstacks a woodpile (small)


The breed of Cultivators is not to be confused with the Levelers, a political movement of the English Civil War. Quite the opposite, in fact: any level ground providing solar equality among plants is a potential target. When nosing-around surveys indicate a plot of ground that smells a bit moist, as it must after someone rashly has watered plants attempting to grow in the area, so much the better. Moist, soft ground is an invitation, virtually a commandment to local upheaval.

Coming back in the dark one recent evening, I noticed that the culprit-in-chief Golden Cultivator had dug up another bougainvillea at the corner of the fence nearest the front porch. Dave and I, much annoyed, replanted it immediately and soaked it. Digger had scattered so much of the dirt that Dave could fill in less than half of the hole. Its leaves already were withering. The next day we finished the re-planting (with our patent fertilizer, Chopped-Bits-o'Canine), and safeguarded its roots with a 500-pound block of cement.

Actually, the fertilizer was merely a warning.

Pet-Me-Now is a more practical digger, going for lizards under bushes or rocks. And romance! When the moon is full and the golden blood sings, she digs under the fence and goes looking for adventure. She doesn't go far and is back by morning.

Her jaws aren't so big or strong (notwithstanding the Nylabone), but she'll move firewood when motivated. She makes no bones about tumbling a dozen or two log chunks off a woodpile to extract a lizard or small rodent.

Encounters with wildlife

Golden Cultivators rarely bark, except at actual intruders. A distant siren, though, will set them howling in stereo in response. I would like to know what kind of creatures they visualize as the owners of the siren voices.

One summer evening after dark I was watering the yard with a pressure nozzle on the hose, and idly wondered what would happen if there was a rat in the nearest tree, and I flushed it out with the hose. Following this truly idle thought, I directed the stream of water into the tree, and a rat fell out!

As the rat hit the ground, I shouted to the dogs who were on the far side of the yard, studiously avoiding getting wet. The wet rat stood bemused a few moments, then shook itself and ran off into the dark. The dogs stayed where they were.

On a similar occasion on a warm evening with hose in hand, I heard a suspicious rustle in the fig tree, and blasted water into that dark tree beside the house. Sure enough, a rat jumped onto the roof and ran along the eaves straight toward me. Startled, I aimed the water directly at the rat; the also-startled rat reversed course, ran along the roof back toward the fig tree and disappeared. The dogs were lounging on the dry patio and would not budge.

Fifty thousand years of breeding to turn wolves into dogs, that is, useful hunting partners and family companions; and we get tame wolves that dig holes in the yard.

They have, however, managed to bring home the bacon a few times. Not only have they caught several rats, they've also caught a rabbit and an opossum, all within the yard. Remember that the fence was pup-proofed, and of course the area must thoroughly smell of dog to any wild animal. Nimble rats may feel safe in the trees (barring hoses), but why would a rabbit and an opossum venture into the yard? Death wish? Perhaps they didn't realize that most of the edible plants have been cultivated to a fare-thee-well.


© 2001 Robert Wilfred Franson

Photo: RWF with Sandy;
Sandy unstacks a woodpile

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